Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Strange, wonderful, poignant. Hampton Court Palace Flower Show

Went to Hampton Court, the biggest flower show on earth. (and I posted about Hampton Court's golden gates here).    This year there was an Alice in Wonderland theme.  I've blogged about some of that here on my Lewis Carroll/writing blog.

There was more than Alice, of course. Like, crowds.  We hadn't seen crowds like it since the days when I used to write about Disney World.  And so, if you've ever been to Disney at a peak time, you'll know how it felt at Hampton Court, shuffling across the bridge from the station and all the way along through the gardens to the showground.

Here was the view on the station platform when we finally struggled off the train (after a five minute wait before they opened the doors, due to platform congestion. Yes, this is the platform AFTER the congestion cleared.)

The queue snaked on and on and on, right into the Palace grounds, past one of the Palace gardeners who was busy keeping the edges of the lawn immaculate.  The way he was snipping so delicately made me wonder if he wouldn't have been better off cutting the blades of grass with nail scissors.

A mere blog entry isn't enough to describe everything that was there. Let me offer you a few snapshots...

The weather was dodgy, so this couple eating their packed lunch, are wisely wearing rain capes. In the foreground is one of the entries in the Wonderland scarecrow competition. No prizes for guessing who it is.

Below is  a little corner of the "Home Front" 1940s garden.  This reminds me of the garden my grandfather had when I was a child. I used to like to sit and play amidst the lupins, although I don't suppose he liked me doing that very much, come to think of it.

Several of the gardens were "conceptual" - intended to illustrate an idea. Some of these worked better than others, in that some conveyed their "concept" successfully but were not very nice gardens. Others didn't convey the concept very well but were interesting and attractive. For instance, I liked this one, below, which was quite surreal. I have forgotten what it was supposed to represent, but I liked the way that steam was puffing out of the little chimneys set in green hills.  As if Teletubbies might be lurking...  

I loved a garden created by the charity "Worldvision" which does useful work sponsoring children in poor parts of the world.  I truly don't know how their very beautiful garden relates to this work, but it surely must have  raised awareness of the charity. Masses of wild flowers grew between tall grey slabs spaced around the edges of the plot. Through each gap you could glimpse a pond which contained a large grass balll and a corresponding grass cup.  The effect was mysterious and very striking.  Even in the busy flower show, it looked good; in a private garden it would be stunning.  I wondered how they'd cut the grass, though.

I don't know much about how you get to create a garden there, but one very striking gardens was created by a charity which helps people with bladder problems. It's called and  garden was basically bright pink, with a large tap running constantly into a small trough.

 In the centre, (not shown) was a large ball which was supported on a fountain of running water. Visitors could easily control the ball even though it looked large and heavy.  The idea was that you took control of your bladder problem, just like you could control the ball.   I found the bright pink walls and brilliantly coloured flowers oppressive, but there's no doubt it was memorable - see? I've remembered all about it! And I hope it will have alerted many sufferers to the idea that there is help for this troublesome condition. 

I was quite impressed by a garden created by the makers of Copella apple juice, .  This, like many of the gardens, used wild flowers extensively, and contained several pretty, small apple trees. The garden theme was associated with preserving English apple orchards and promoting the idea that ordinary people should grow apple trees. . (More info from clicking on the link above) .  The pathway was inspired by the veins on an apple leaf, and the sculpture at the top is supposed to represent regeneration. I was rather disappointed that they didn't make it look like an apple pip.

Some of the concepts were impossible to understand even when explained.  One of the most original gardens was designed by a company called Bestique.   It's very hard indeed to describe it., but the inspiration was apparently inspired by a line from a song by Jimi Hendrix - wonder which one.   The garden consisted of - let me try to explain - a sort of small amphitheatre with angled mirrors all the way around. The mirrors reflecting both the sky and the tall blue agapanthus flowers sited nearby.   Above, was a lattice upon which were suspended many plants hanging upside down and swinging about in the wind.  You view the plants with a mirror and they appear to be dancing upon the sky. I didn't take a movie but here is a photograph (which I have turned upside down) and you must imagine the plants moving as if in a dance.... 

Although it sounds odd - and, indeed, it WAS odd - it was a very pleasant and relaxing place. I did wonder if you have to replace the plants every  now and then, because of course they'll do their best NOT to grow upside down.

One of my favourite gardens was a magnificent effort by TeamUK. This organisation promotes manual skills training for young people (and if you click on their name, above,  it takes you to the website, which has much more about the garden.).  Their garden was voted the public's favourite, and few would be surprised by that - it was so large and so full of interesting things. I am just showing one corner here. A cottage - yes, they'd built a real cottage! - with a turf roof, sitting off a winding lane. 

Like several of the other gardens, the SkillsUK garden used wild flowers to good effect.  I could hardly believe that it had all been created from scratch.  If this is an example of the skill of young artisans, then the future of landscape and architectural restoration looks secure. 

There were a number of gardens themed on poems. The gardens were pretty variable in quality, but we were greatly impressed by a garden inspired by Rudyard Kipling's poem "My Boy Jack," which is about a sailor fighting for his country.  Kipling wrote the poem after his beloved only son Jack was killed in the First World War. Jack's death absolutely devastated him and affected the rest of his life, and for this reason the poem is full of poignancy. I'm printing it out in full below. It's in the form of a dialogue between two unnamed people, although one is obviously Jack's mother.   

"Have you news of my boy Jack?
Not this tide.
When d'you think that  he'll come back? 
Not with this wind blowing, and this tide
Has anyone else had word of him?
Not this tide
For what is sunk will hardly swim
Not with this wind blowing, and this tide.
Oh dear, what comfort can I find?
None this tide
Nor any tide
Except he did not shame his kind
Not even with that wind blowing, and that tide
Then hold your head up all the more
This tide
And every tide
Because he was the son you bore
And gave to that wind blowing, and that tide!
The garden evoked a windswept place by the sea, and as it was a windy day, the long grass was blowing and rippling in the wind.  Looking at my photo, I think I might have preferred the seagulls to be naturalistic rather than stylised -  but in fact they looked fine when you actually saw the garden.

I'll write more about Hampton Court Flower show later. But I think that the Kipling garden is a well conceived and thought provoking garden with which to end this post..  


  1. These gardens are stunning! So magical and fun. Thanks for sharing them.

  2. I don't blame people for crowding the place - it is truly beautiful, and of course everybody wants to see it. The grass cup and ball are completely different from any other garden I have ever seen, and I like the concept of the garden with the turfed cottage, as well as the Kipling garden. Thank you for posting these pictures!
    Some time in the 1990s, I've been to the Hampton Court Flower Show; it was the year they had a mock-up cottage with each of its four sides showing one of the four seasons, complete with a bit of seasonally themed garden in front of it.

  3. it's like the american unofficial lawn competition raised to the level of an art-form.

  4. I enjoyed this post so much, thank you for sharing some of the many interesting gardens at this show! Love that cottage with the sod roof. World Vision's entry was quite intriguing! I'm still trying to puzzle out if their design has special meaning matching their work...

    Having seen "My Boy Jack" the BBC production, on TV a couple of years ago, your words about that were very poignant indeed.

  5. Never been to Hampton Court just to Chelsea, but it is on the top of my list!

  6. Despite the crowd, I think I would love to visit this. Lovely artwork indeed!

  7. I would have loved to have seen the Hampton Court Flower Show in person, you did a wonderful job describing it...every photo is special.

  8. just beautiful! love flower shows : )

  9. Wow. Beautiful garden pics!

  10. Thanks for the comments everyone @librarian - I have never been before and from what you say it sounds as if it's been imaginative and interesting in the past ... So will go again. @Sara I wish I had seen this programme.

  11. Great post and photos - I particularly loved the Home Front garden. My Boy Jack always brings a lump to my throat.

  12. Looking around all over so beautiful pictures! I will follow you to see more! :) LG Tina


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